Mimi, also known as my grandmother on my father’s side, or Melba Mackenzie, died Friday (10/28/5 in the afternoon), the last of my grandparents. She had been ailing for quite some time. I was surprised how long she made it. She had had a stroke some years back that left her unable to manage at her former home, so she moved into a retirement village. She lost some physical capability. She couldn’t operate her right arm very well, having trouble writing, which she had loved so much to do. She also had trouble with one of her legs. Over time this worsened and turned out to be something wrong with her knee. Eventually she couldn’t walk, though she could uncomfortably stand and make her way into a chair or to reach some things. She was still able to live by herself, at the Cardinal Retirement Village where she lived. They made dinner for her, but she complained about it constantly. Some of her friends moved over to a place in the Falls called Danbury and had liked it a lot. They said the food was excellent, prepared by a five star chef. She had been complaining about many things regarding Cardinal for a while, so she finally moved out, over to Danbury. The apartment was smaller, so we had to help to get rid of some of her stuff. It’s always so sad having to get rid of stuff, especially because of the possibility of getting rid of something important, that holds some spur to the memory of some important event or thing in the past that could otherwise be lost forever. We crammed her remaining stuff into her new apartment and storage locker. Danbury was amazingly nice looking compared to Cardinal. It was more like a nice, clean, new hotel than an old shabby apartment building. The food was also indeed quite excellent. This more than made up for the smaller apartment with a smaller outside porch. Mimi loved watching the birds visit her apartment, so she got permission to attach a bird feeder to the overhang of her porch. My dad visited her every Wednesday night and Saturday morning to have a meal and help her with the things she was unable to do herself, like fill the bird-feeder, do her shopping, and refill her prescriptions. She managed alright, though everything took her much longer than it used to. I had to help with her pills and other things when my dad had a heart attack. I also had to drive her to the doctor’s and to the hair dresser at Cardinal, whom she much preffered to the one at Danbury. She went every two weeks if she was healthy enough, so I got to see a lot more of her. I hadn’t seen her too often for a good while there. We’d usually go out to eat after the hairdressers. This wasn’t exactly easy for her. She had trouble getting into and out of the car and chairs at restaurants, and hearing the servers. But she enjoyed the food and spending some time with me. I even introduced her to real Mexican food; she must have only known Mexican based upon Taco Bell before that. I only got to take her there once, but she enjoyed it a good bit and had mentioned it several times since then when we talked about where we could go. She usually wanted me to choose, but I generally didn’t care where we went, and wanted to take her somewhere where she could get something she wanted. She enjoyed Eat n Park a good bit, because it had some good spaghetti, one thing Danbury wasn’t able to make. It also had a chicken stir fry that she really liked. Other things, such as the gravy covered sandwiches and strawberry salad, she didn’t like too much. One of her favorites was Olive Garden, but we only ate there once because of the cost and goodness of the spaghetti at Eat n Park. We even had Jamie come along to the Olive Garden. We were going to have Paul come along as well, but he hadn’t been able to for some reason.
Mimi had gotten a little motorized scooter back at Cardinal once she couldn’t walk anymore. She drove it down to meals, and occasionally we had her drive it down and park it at the front door when taking her places. She took the cart to Danbury. It got a nice reception there. One of the woman working at the dining room would drive it around while Mimi ate. She got her a horn for the cart and would toot it whenever she drove it. All the people at Danbury were very nice, and they even got to know me a bit when I came to visit Mimi. The people at Cardinal weren’t all nice to her. Many of the resident’s were her good friends, but she had trouble with some of the employees. When she left though, many wanted her to come back. The two woman at the front desk always enjoyed seeing her revisit to get her hair done, and wanted her to come back. Many others knew her and greeted her when we came in. Sharon was the hairdresser that Mimi liked so much. She was a nice lady, and was always able to give Mimi the hairdo she wanted (although Mimi would sometimes move the bangs near the side, to Sharon’s disapproval). She’d tell me when I needed to be back by to pick Mimi up, and was always just finishing up when a I came in.
I never really got to know a whole lot about Mimi. I was too young for her to tell me much about her when I used to visit as a kid. Then there was a lull where I didn’t see her too much. I started seeing her a bit again when she had gone to Cardinal and occasionally needed assistance, such as going to the doctor (that conveniently was right across the street). Then after she moved again I started seeing a lot of her, though perhaps not as much as she would have wanted. She often would say that I could stop in or call her at any time, though I never ended up taking her up on that; I always found myself quite busy even though I didn’t necessarily have anything to do or get anything done (I still am this way). I didn’t ask her about her life, but she did occasionally tell me stories. I had known from before that she had been a teacher, including at Tri-C, had lived up in Maine for a while but found the winters awful cold, and had had a husband and daughter that I never met due to their early deaths. She told many stories about her teaching years, as well as some about Maine and about raising her children. One story of hers:
She was walking with a student through some town once. Mimi stopped at a crosswalk with a red light. The girl asked why Mimi was just standing there. Mimi said it was because there was a red light. The girl said “so” and wondered why that mattered. She had never seen a stoplight before, living in rural West Virginia, and Mimi had to explain to her what it did and how it worked.
She also often mentioned that she had done many things in previous lives, including visit Jamaica. She had said this when her granddaughter Kris took a vacation there. Kris was going to tell this story at her funeral, but then didn’t, perhaps because of the pastor’s (or whatever he was) strong religious theme to his speech. The funeral saw many guests, though, as we were the first there, I had worried we would be the only one’s. Guests included her Sister, some of my Dad’s cousin’s, us, Aunt Linda, with her husband and two children, some folk from Danbury, even two of my Mom’s siblings and their families. I was surprised to see my cousin’s Paul and Ally. They hadn’t known Mimi especially well, though she had made it to some of the family gatherings on my Mom’s side over the past several years. I had to talk to them, though, about camping plans. Kris, who had come down to see Mimi in her last days, invited us up to Maine next summer.
Mimi died over maybe a two week period. She had been feeling sick for a while, and wasn’t able to go out to the hair dressers one Thursday. This happened occasionally. She continued to be sick for a while, progressing to the point where she was vomiting and unable to even get into bed. The people at Danbury wanted her to go to the hospital, but she didn’t want to. She seemed to hate that. She even signed a waiver when Danbury finally called 911 saying she refused to go. But as she was unable to do anything for herself, they, including my dad, convinced her that she had to go to the hospital. At the hospital, they found numerous things wrong with her, including pneumonia, failing kidneys, and dehydration. They re-hydrated her and what not, but her kidneys were in awful shape. She didn’t want to go on dialysis. Of the options given by the nurse, she decided to go to a hospice for the rest of her days. They’d give her medication and care for her, but take no other action to save her if she were dying. She was very tired and slept a lot, which slowly progressed to constant unconsciousness. I visited her twice before she died, once in the hospital just hours before she was moved, and once at the hospice. At the hospital, she for some reason thought my dad told her I was Jamie, but then realized I was Toby. She was very tired and didn’t talk much there. She did say that she’d be going to the hospice to die, and thought she had worn a white coat on her trip to the hospital. When I talked to her at the hospice, it was also brief. I didn’t know quite what to say, and she seemed to be very tired anyway. At one point she said she couldn’t stand her boredom there, and just wanted to sleep. I did get to talk to Kris a bit though, a cousin who I hardly know and haven’t seen very often. Too bad I didn’t realize that’d be the last time I’d see Mimi.
She was cremated. Her ashes will be spread over the lake by her camp in Maine in the summer. The pastor at the service gave a good speech to us. His speech was quite religion based, but many of his stories worked for us non-religious as well. I was a bit disappointed by the “punch-line” of one of his stories:
A man and his children were at the breakfast table, and jovially talking about people’s words at their death beds. They changed the tone by seriously asking him what he’d tell them if he knew he’d die. He said he didn’t know. At some point he had a heart attack and nearly died. After he was better, he told the kids he had thought about and written down what he’d have told them. He’d tell them to remember Jesus, or something like that.
This story wasn’t especially applicable to the non-religious, and was too long in the telling to find that out. He was a practical theologian who liked to show how theology applied to real life. My dad, Aunt Linda, Kris, and, on the spot, Uncle Art, gave short little talks about Mimi. They were all good and important contributions to the ceremony. My dad talked a good bit about her life, and her interest in education and strong will. Aunt Linda talked a bit about her life and read one of her poems. Kris also read one of her poems. Uncle Art told a few brief stories about her. I liked the ceremony, especially how it wasn’t so sad as some are.
I got to see many pictures of Mimi and her husband and children from long ago. It’s always interesting to see those snips of peoples lives that I’ve never seen before.
I will eventually expand, better organize, and turn this into a page.